James Cleverly’s plan to crack down on legal migration is causing confusion and distress for many international couples, lawyers have warned, with families facing being split up by stringent new visa rules.
The home secretary announced a five-point plan to bring down immigration on Monday.
Many of Mr Cleverly’s changes were focused on making it harder for skilled workers to get a UK visa. But the home secretary also made it far harder for Britons to bring foreign partners and family members into the country, insisting that anyone sponsoring a family visa should earn £38,700 (€45,150) a year – up from £18,600 today.
Data suggests this could make it impossible for between 60 and 70 per cent of workers to bring their family into the UK.
Madeleine Sumption, the director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said: “This is definitely completely different to what any other high-income country does.”
Under the new rules, someone will be able to bring a family member into the country if they earn £38,700 year. If the partner is already in the UK, both people’s incomes will be taken into account.
If someone does not qualify under those rules, they will still be allowed to bring in family members if they have sufficient savings. Under current rules that figure is £62,500, but the government is consulting over whether to increase it.
Families might be given an exemption from the rules under “exceptional circumstances”, although officials cannot say what those circumstances are, and say they review each case on its own merits.
Downing Street insisted on Tuesday that the system was fair. A No 10 spokesperson said: “Before yesterday, that threshold had not increased in more than 10 years.”
Lawyers and applicants say, however, that it has led to distress and confusion, with many families already in the process of applying for visas now unsure of what the changes will mean for them.
Nick Gore, a partner at Carter Thomas solicitors, said: “This is devastating for many people that just about meet the existing financial requirements. There is a huge spectrum of people who are affected – some are on minimum wage jobs, others have started their own businesses. This will split families up.” – Guardian